Shabbat: A Metaphor for Meditation

At our congregation’s Jewish Meditation just before Shabbat 2 weeks ago, Moshe (Mel) Seligsohn shared this intention (join us for our final week of this series of Meditation this Friday, 5:00-5:30 pm, and please contact me to share whether you’d be interested in more meditation opportunities in the future):

How Is Jewish meditation different from other forms of meditation, especially the “still” forms we think of as those from India, Tibet and the East?

Any prayer is a meditation, so if you’re praying, you’re meditating and vice versa. This is true in all faiths. And the intention is universal–the desire to create an intimate relationship to the Devine Realm. Perhaps what makes Jewish prayer somewhat distinctive is verbalization…”Hear (listen!), Oh, Israel…” and its communal expression…”the Lord OUR G-d, the Lord is One.”  Our silent prayers are also invoked communally.

Thus, what we think of as classic Eastern quiet sitting meditation may not be a comfortable format for many Jews. Our hyper-active conscious mental activity seems so natural that we can’t imagine what would happen if we turned it off, or changed stations to Easy Listening, so to speak. We’re always solving problems, either from the illusionary past or those coming at us from an imagined future.  This mental junk mail is what Eastern meditators call the “monkey mind”, hijacking our consciousness as we attempt to “be in the moment”. Our ego is making this racket,  so it all “feels” so sensible. What’s life without our endless to-do list?

So what to do as our world becomes uncomfortably distracting and the pace of life feels frantic? People from all faiths are finding spiritual sanctuary, not in the escape of drugs, but in quiet Eastern meditation–a spiritual  space for the mind to experience repose from a the uncontrollable events that beset us.

Does Judaism provide that space, too? Definitely. The link between traditional Jewish prayer practice and Eastern meditative techniques lies in the core concept of Shabbat. In this week’s Toral portion, Emor (Speak), Hashem speaks to Moses, telling him to inform the Cohanim what their priestly duties are. He lays down many rules and regulations that include everything from how to deal with corpses, who and what might defile the Temple, resolving marital issues, sacraficing animals, not to mention how to bake challah. The list is exhaustive and exhausting. Patience is needed. Multi-tasking is born.

In the midst of all these instructions,however, Hashem takes a deep breath, and tells Moses:

“Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: Hashem has appointed festivals that you are to designate as holy convocations–these are the appointed festivals. For six days labor may be done, and the seventh day is a day of complete rest, a holy convocation, you shall  not do any work; it is a Sabbath for Hashem in all your dwelling places.”

Quiet meditation can be viewed as a mini-Shabbat. We take a complete rest and simply pay attention to what’s going on in our minds.  We calm our minds. We give our ego a rest. As we do this, those parts of the mind we are not normally aware of return. We may feel ourselves with more compassionate, more charitable, less angry thoughts, with  new insights and fresh creative solutions to our problems. We forgive. Our minds move away from their usual obsession loops. We move closer to the Devine Realm.

Like Hashem, this better self has been there all the time. We just had to take the complete rest, stop everything and take note.

Shabbat is mentioned 80 times in the Torah.  The fourth of the 10 Commandments, it’s part of our spiritual DNA. Maybe it’s time to pay more attention to its message.

Let’s try it together.